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The popular mobile game from Tencent, Player Unknown's Battlegrounds, or PUBG for short, may make a comeback in India. Yet, i

Key Highlights

  • The Indian government had banned a popular battle royale game, PUBG Mobile, in September last year, along with hundreds of other Chinese applications and games.
  • The game’s comeback could be imminent as Battlegrounds Mobile India.
  • PUBG Corporation, the parent firm of the game, has also announced its plans to hire over 100 employees and invest over 100 million USD in India.

PUBG Mobile, a popular battle royale game, could be returning to India soon with a new name. As per the game’s developers’ teasers published, it may relaunch with a new name, Battlegrounds Mobile India, an India-exclusive game version.

There have been many speculations going on regarding PUBG India making a comeback. Ever since the Indian government had banned the game, PUBG corporation has been attempting to make a comeback in the Indian gaming community (1).

The Name Change

Notably, India’s YouTube and Facebook pages have already changed their name to Battlegrounds Mobile India, which has made the name change speculations more likely. However, the official name of the Facebook page is still PUBG Mobile India.

And if we talk about PUBG Mobile’s official Instagram handle and YouTube channel, there has been no name change.

The name of the PUBG Mobile India Twitter handle also remains the same.

The ‘Supposed’ Teaser

The rumors also talk about PUBG Mobile India releasing a teaser on its YouTube channel (2).

Earlier, the company had posted a short teaser on its YouTube channel. However, it has since been made private. However, since there is no evidence of the ‘supposed’ teaser, it is safe to say that it was probably a gimmick.

There is also a PUBG Mobile India coming soon poster, which is spreading across the internet. The leaked posters show that the gameplay in the new game will be the same. Same core but under a different mantle.

The news has come to the delight of several PUBG Mobile fans in India. It was released over five months ago and indicated no credible signs of a comeback.

The development of Battlegrounds Mobile India came from Gemwire, who detected an update in the official website of PUBG Mobile India source code (3).

Several reports also suggest that players will be able to keep on with their progress and purchases. However, there is no solid evidence. Notably, Krafton had previously stated that they would collaborate with Microsoft for the storage of player data (4). We can see this move as a ploy to gain the government’s trust.

However, there has been no official report from the developers regarding the matter to date.

The Ban Timeline

In September last year, the Indian government had banned PUBG Mobile since a Chinese company, Tencent, held the game’s license (5). The ban of PUBG and several other Chinese-origin apps and games happened amid the tensions between India and China. It had banned the games and apps with concern over ‘prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of the country, the Indian defense, and security of a state and public order.’

Since then, Krafton Inc., the developer of PUBG, has revoked Tencent’s license. The game’s relaunch will likely be under PUBG Corporation’s name. The game developers are constantly in touch with the government trying to get the game back and have several government officials’ meetings.

However, it is worth highlighting that the Indian government has not approved the game’s launch yet. In response to an RTI, Right to Information query by IT policy portal Medianama, the government stated that it had not granted any permission to start any mobile apps, services, and websites (6).

It means that PUBG Mobile does not have permission to launch in India, or the game does not need any approval before the launch from the government, especially if the game is launched under a new company. In this case, PUBG Corporation instead of Tencent Games.

Notably, none of it has deterred the company. It has also announced its plans to set up an Indian subsidiary with a local office, hiring over 100 employees, and investing 100 million USD (7).

There is Still Hope!

There are high possibilities that PUBG mobile will make a comeback in India. There are also speculations that the number of available job vacancies in Krafton, both on their official website and LinkedIn page, is because of the development of Mobile India. The update in the source code and existence of the poster gives us hope that our beloved PUBG Mobile will soon make a comeback as Battlegrounds Mobile India. We will have to see how the future unfolds for now.

But, Why is PUBG Keen on Making a Return to India?

Ever since the Indian government banned the app in the country, the Korean company PUBG Corporation has been doing hectic activities to revive the app in India and keep its hold in the market. The parent entity is so desperate that it even cut its ties with Tencent Games to retain the publishing rights for India.

Additionally, the company is also looking at an Indian gaming firm to handle its distribution. It has been taking several plans to revive the game in India and appease the government in revoking its ban. After all, PUBG was a significant player in the Indian e-sport industry with more than 15 million downloads and about 50 million monthly active users (8).

As per Utkarsh Sinha, a managing director at Bexley Advisors, a boutique investment bank company, for PUBG, India is a crucial market. It was the top grosser among mobile games in the country. For a firm like PUBG, which is on a pathway to unit economies, holding such a core user group is critical. It also functions like studios with the success of a current game, driving the user base, and funding for the next game is essential for their long-term viability.

A sudden turn off of the tap to a market such as India, with its scale and size, can ring the death knell for a business, Sinha added (9).

PUBG has a huge fan base of active games in India, over 10% of its global user base, which PUBG Corp can not afford to lose. As per Subramanyam Sreenivasaiah, the CEO of Ascent HR, the gaming industry is an extremely fast-growing industry that throws up quick alternatives that entice user creation at a fast pace. Moreover, the gamers’ investments in PUBG are also at a flashpoint for continuity as the ban persists in the country.

Vaibhav Odhekar, the COO and co-founder of POKKT, an in-app mobile gaming ad company, pointed out that the ban is not only a short-term glitch and an immediate impact; it is a massive potential long-term loss; since gaming is a habit. Once players start to move on to other options, and there are several available, including Call of Duty and Free Fire, which is currently leading, to bring them back is not going to be an easy task. Additionally, multiplayer gaming is a community phenomenon. Players will go where their gang is, which means unless they all can come back soon, which we hope they do, it would, for all practical purposes, be starting from scratch again.

At the time of the ban, the numbers in India for PUBG were only the tip of the iceberg. The potential growth of these numbers is huge as the game content consumer, and player numbers in India are witnessing a big uptick.

Manvendra Shukul, the co-founder and CEO of Lakshya Digital, highlights that developers keep their eyes on and look to take advantage of these growing numbers. They look to hold on to the present huge numbers while also looking to capture the growth that will happen to maintain their position in India. We can very well imagine the scenario when the Indian gaming market gets into full steam.

Since PUBG has huge numbers of players already in the country, we need to see whether the government will finally revoke the ban.

According to a conversation between Aditya Narayan Mishra, the CEO, and director of CIEL HR Services with THE WEEK (10), with rising smartphone penetration and easy internet access, and a huge number of young generation adopting mobile gaming for entertainment, the future is bright for the gaming industry in India.

Additionally, the number of people adopting gaming as a standard form of entertainment is also increasing rapidly. The consumer base is not restricted to young adults and kids, making India a huge market that developers can not afford to ignore.

According to a Maple Capital Advisors report, the overall gaming is at an inflection stage in the country, with rapid growth in consumption and investments likely to accelerate. The report highlights that between 2014 to 2020, the total VC, Venture Capital funding in the Indian gaming startup ecosystem was 350 million USD, growing at a 22% CAGR (11).

Recent trends also indicate that the growth is accelerating as the segment also sees increased FDIs and collaborations in light of its growth trajectory. Investment firms such as Accel, Sequoia, Blume, Kallari, Matrix have made impactful investments in the Indian gaming industry. The report also discovers that apart from tractions in platforms, value-wise real money and e-sports are also leading investments.

Indian Pro Gamers were Unfazed Over PUBG Ban Despite its Immense Popularity

PUBG had immense popularity in India. A game that came to the country in 2018 as a mobile gaming app took India by storm, with millions across varied age groups hooked onto the 15 to 30-minute games. With Jio recently releasing cheap data plans and smartphones becoming more accessible, PUBG witnessed more than 20 crore installs in India in less than three years, the highest across the globe for the game (12).

Indian pro gamers such as Mortal, CarryisLive, Dynamo, Scout, Dalijitsk, and others are nothing but celebrities in the gaming industry. They live stream for hours and play daily while gathering millions of views on YouTube with fans and rivals flooding the chat space. Mortal has over 6 million subscribers on YouTube and Dynamo, with over eight million. There are also several regional PUBG players streaming in regional languages with thousands of views.

These players and their teams have represented India in multiple global PUBG tournaments and championships where the prize money goes up to thousands of dollars (13).

According to Animesh, the co-founder of Team Soul, which manages popular streamers like Mortal, apart from Bollywood and cricket, PUBG mobile is the most significant thing that has hit India.

He added that when Tencent witnessed the immense popularity of the game in India, it came and took the market by storm with tournaments, setting up the esports ecosystem and everything in the country, which drew further millions to the game.

Apart from official PUBG Mobile leagues, Tencent had organized several local outfits and organized licensed tournaments with prize money running into lakhs of INR.

The Indian gamers and teams were so popular that even international e-sports teams started to come to India and forge partnerships with them. TSM, an esports giant, collaborated with an Indian team, Entity Gaming (14). Pole, a multinational video game service firm, had acquired Orange Rock, another popular team, and they reportedly earned over 120k USD (15).

Hence, while there were several memes of parents being happy to get rid of the addictive game, the ban had come as a rude shock to thousands of players building their career in gaming which largely hinged on PUBG.

Yet, most gamers showed an optimistic attitude post the ban.

For instance, while streaming on his YouTube channel right after the ban, Mortal stated that while all PUBG tournaments in India will be on hold, the ban is only a setback and not the end of the gaming. He supported the decision since it is about the safety and interest of our nation.

It makes sense; after all, they are gamers, not PUBG Mobile gamers.

While most gamers are not trying to bring in a new game that may not tamper with India’s privacy, there has been no mobile game in the country that garnered such popularity as PUBG. And even though the console and desktop version of PUBG is not banned in the country, a mobile game that plays the game professionally is unlikely to switch.

Since a pro gaming device can cost between 70 to 80k INR, while a mid-range smartphone can cost between 10 to 12k INR.

Not only players, but it was also a setback for event organizers and brands who had worked so hard for PUBG tournaments. The ban also had a massive impact on them since PUBG used to bring in a lot of money for them with sponsorship and prize pools.

Nonetheless, pro gamers are now looking at the next game, the next big thing, and keep the gaming industry growing in the country.

Why PUBG May Never Return to India?

While fans love the addictive game, PUBG had gathered a lot of flak during its time in India. The critics had flagged the game from distracting students from academics throughout the nation. Some state governments even went ahead to direct schools to ban the game on the campuses (16).

Prakash Javadekar, the Indian Minister for Information and Broadcasting, stated that PUBG is among the several examples of mobile games that are ‘violent, addictive, and explicit.’ He had made the statement while announcing the government’s plan to build a center for excellence in gaming and other related areas (17).

There have also been reports from IGN India, citing sources familiar with the matter, that the central government has not planned to unban PUBG Mobile. The portal quoted the source stating that authorities are not stupid. Even if publishing duties have changed hands, the game’s development is still based in China (18).

According to an Inside Sport report, PUBG re-entry into India may not be easy in the current scenario, quoting a source familiar with the matter. It added that any banned platform could not operate by floating a new company. Even TikTok or any other firm can do it. They will need to get approval from the government to operate once again in India.

Moreover, earlier this year, the Indian government reportedly imposed a permanent ban on PUBG, TikTok, and 57 other Chinese apps, which further raises the uncertainty of PUBG making a comeback in India (19).

Final Words

PUBG was among more than 200 Chinese apps that the Indian government had banned last year. While several reports suggest that the game will return in India, the present scenario suggests otherwise. The PUBG developers had earlier stated that it would hire employees in India, revoke Chinese Tencent of its license, and promise to make a whole new game. However, as per reports, the government may not allow the same.

It is not clear whether the popular game will make a return in India at this point. Moreover, looking at the state of apps such as TikTok and several other Chinese apps that have pulled out of the country, it is unlikely that the popular battle royale game will make a comeback anytime soon.

Meanwhile, games like Call of Duty and Garena Free Fire have started replacing PUBG (20).

Stay tuned for more updates!